A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 12, 2024

How Russia Planned To Capture Chasiv Yar By May 9 - And Failed

Even at what American readers will recognize as Ukraine's Valley Forge moment - its most dire situation of the war with Russia as supplies and troop strength ebbed - Ukraine has still managed to thwart the more numerous and now better equipped Russians. 

Chasiv Yar was supposed to have been the Russian military's May 9 gift to Putin - and once again, they failed to deliver. Map coordinates suggest they remain no closer than they were a month ago. The problem for Russia remains poor training, coordination and units exhausted by constant attacks which deplete their troops, armor and other vehicles while gaining nothing of value. JL 

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

Russia planned to capture Chasiv Yar by May 9, to give Putin something to celebrate at Moscow’s annual Victory Parade. It failed. (And) Russian forces don’t appear any closer to the town than when they made this prediction. Russian attempts to capture the town may have  reached their peak. Assaults have dropped from every few hours to every few days. And where the Russians were attacking with tanks and armored vehicles, they’re now advancing in small groups using quad bikes, part of Russia’s latest attempt to find a means of penetrating Ukrainian defenses. Russia trying to gain territory before American supplies arrived  may have simply exhausted its troops.

From the start of Russia’s illegal, unprovoked invasion, the Ukrainian government’s goal has been clear: not just pushing Russia back beyond the boundaries that existed on Feb 24, 2022, but recovering the land stolen by Russia in an earlier 2014 invasion. Using Google Maps to view Ukraine’s boundaries, the borders don’t just include recently captured locations like Avdiivka and Bakhmut. They also include cities like Donetsk and the whole of Crimea, which fell to Russia almost 10 years ago.

That border is the official Ukraine, the boundaries of the nation as recognized by international law. And President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is determined to reclaim those boundaries.


However, as The Economist reports, the failed counteroffensive in spring 2023 and the slow but steady Russian advance that began over the winter have many people—even people in Ukraine—rethinking whether the lines on the map are achievable. Starved for both equipment and manpower, Ukrainian soldiers have been conducting a slow retreat. More U.S. supplies are on the way, but their arrival won’t reverse Russia’s advantage in raw numbers. As Ukraine digs in to weather the storm, restoring the country to its 1991 borders seems more of a dream than ever.


But that doesn’t mean Ukraine is ready to concede defeat—or another centimeter of ground.

Russia has enjoyed a numerical advantage in both men and hardware from the start of the invasion. However, following Russia’s initial call-up of reserves and subsequent mobilizations, there was some comfort to be had in knowing that Russian troops were poorly trained and poorly equipped. Stories of Russian soldiers using ancient rifles and machine guns from the 19th century gave a reassuring picture that Ukrainian troops, even if outnumbered, were better prepared, better trained, and better equipped than their counterparts.

But over the past year, Ukraine has suffered a crippling shortage of ammunition and other materiel and Russia has had time to get its act together. Russia has utilized electronic warfare to neutralize U.S. MLRS systems that were ripping through supplies and critical targets kilometers from the front lines. They have largely matched Ukraine in the use of drones. And over the six months in which Republicans withheld U.S. assistance from Ukraine, Russia has moved forward with an army that was not just larger, but arguably better equipped than exhausted Ukrainian front-line forces.

The impact of that shift is magnified at a location that’s been near the front of this war since Russia approached Bakhmut—Chasiv Yar.


But if the situation there seems bleak, with a much smaller Ukrainian force holding out on the heights against an estimated 50,000 fresh troops from Russia, it’s certainly not without hope.

The Economist focuses on the commanders of units gathered in this area to face the Russian assault. Col. Pavlo Fedosenko, commander of the 92nd Mechanized Brigade, says that the end of U.S. aid put his unit in dire straits.

By the time a new American aid package was approved on April 24th, it was rationing ammunition. Colonel Fedosenko says he was down to five shells a day for his American Paladin howitzers. “What am I supposed to do with this number of shells? My men were fighting with spades in trenches.”

Because the U.S. had prepositioned weapons and supplies in Poland before the legislation passed, Fedosenko is hopeful that the equipment will soon reach Chasiv Yar. 

Even before that happens, he believes that Russian attempts to capture the town may have already reached their peak. Assaults have dropped from every few hours to every few days. And where the Russians were attacking with tanks and lines of armored vehicles, they’re now advancing in small groups using quad bikes. If you follow any of the updates of daily losses and have noticed that “motorcycle” has begun appearing on the list of Russian losses, this is why. It’s not that Russians are tearing around the country on Urals: It’s that these bikes are part of Russia’s latest attempt to find a means of penetrating Ukrainian defenses. There were several reports of Russia trying to gain territory before American supplies arrived, and in doing so, Russia may have simply exhausted its troops.


Looking at the Chasiv Yar area on Andrew Perpetua’s maps, it’s easy to see that the direct assaults Russia has conducted along the highway to the northeast have failed to generate visible gains in the past two weeks.

Chasiv Yar area


In fact, the map now shows far less activity around Kanal, Zhovtneva, and Kalynivka to the east of Chasiv Yar than was visible a week ago. In fact, the only Russian gains in the area appear to be in the fields south of Ivanivske

Not losing ground may not be as exciting as a big advance, but it’s a pretty great relief considering the number of forces directed at this location and the importance of holding those heights.

Russian forces also seem to have stalled in their advances to the south. After finally breaking through the defenses to capture the former front-line town of Avdiivka, Russia raced ahead over the next weeks, cutting up the highway to the northwest.

Avdiivka area


Ukraine lost the town of Ocheretyne in what can only be described as a massive screwup, but then Ukraine repositioned and braced against further assaults. Russia has continued to consolidate control in the area, but hasn't made such another leapfrogging advance.

Here’s a good measure of how Russia is losing steam in its offensive: Russia had planned to capture Chasiv Yar by May 9, to give dictator Vladimir Putin something to celebrate at Moscow’s annual Victory Parade. It failed. Not only that, Russian forces don’t appear to be any closer to the town than they were when they made this prediction.

According to The Economist, Ukrainian forces are anticipating another attack in the middle of the month, but they’re feeling pretty good about their situation. Ukraine has the heights. They have three defensive lines. And they have those incoming supplies to end worries about rationing ammo… for now.

In the past day, there have been reports that Russia has begun an attack in the Kharkiv area, with another 40,000 troops reportedly massed in that region and attempting to attack across the Russian border. Zelenskyy has indicated that Russia’s initial push in this area was repulsed, but it may be some time before it’s clear whether or not this will be a serious, sustained Russian assault.


When it comes to making Ukraine the official Ukraine, i.e. the Google Maps Ukraine, that’s a challenge they all recognize as years away. But the first step in that fight is in stopping Russia from taking even more. 

“We can either fight for Ukraine against Russia, or we will be overrun and forced to fight for Russia against Europe,” Lt. Col. Oleg Tkach told reporters for The Economist.

Those words from Tkach echo an article in The Atlantic by former Kyiv Post reporter Illia Ponomarenko (who has been a source in many Ukraine Updates).

Ponomarenko warns that while many in the West seem to believe that the war might be settled if Ukraine would agree to give away some part of its territory, or promise to make itself defenseless by refusing to align with Western militaries, Ukrainians know better.

“Having built his rule on war hysteria, land grabs, imperial chauvinism, and global confrontation,” writes Ponomarenko, Putin isn’t going to stop just because of some agreement. They have to win—or submit to Putin’s control.

Since the fall of the Russian-aligned government in the Maidan Revolution, too many Ukrainians have gotten a glimpse of the alternative. They’ve seen democracy rather than authoritarian rule. They’ve enjoyed freedom instead of a military dictatorship where rights only exist at the whim of those in charge.


They won’t go back. They can’t.

When this is over, Ukraine will either be restored to those 1991 borders, or it won’t exist. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between.


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